Microsoft to become the Facebook of enterprise collaborative chat

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Microsoft dominated Spiceworks’ recent report that looked at how businesses communicate within small and large businesses. While Skype for Business still remains the undisputed leader of the pack, Microsoft Teams emerged as an interesting alternative and managed to grab a sizable share of the market.

We asked Peter Tsai, senior technology analyst at Spiceworks, some questions about that report including why we haven’t seen a WordPress for Business chat yet and why we didn’t see Amazon Chime and other competitors emerge in the report.

Why do you think Facebook Workplace has failed to get any sort of meaningful traction?

Despite Facebook’s huge consumer user base, Workplace by Facebook has most likely struggled to get off the ground because companies don’t see the need to adopt a paid business version of the social platform, especially  given stiff competition from competitors like Microsoft Teams and Slack.

Does that mean that standalone chat applications will ultimately become a thing of a past as they become more embedded in businesses?

If standalone chat apps such as Slack (which isn’t bundled as part of a productivity suite), can innovate in ways that others business chat apps can’t, they can survive and even thrive. For example, if Slack can continue to introduce new functionality and include more and better integrations with third-party apps than the competition, there will still be a niche for them to carve out. For example, not all organizations use G Suite or Office 365. Additionally, Spiceworks data shows that small businesses are most likely to adopt Slack, leading us to believe that the app might be best suited for companies with fewer employees, or their free offering may work well enough for smaller organizations. 

Spiceworks' business chat report says that Microsoft to be the dominant collaborative chat apps with Skype for Business and Teams scoring double digit growth in the past two years. Should Skype and Teams merge?

While Teams is replacing Skype for Business as the default chat client in Office 365, there’s still room for both apps to exist, as Teams has more of a focus on workplace group chat, while Skype is more about audio and visual communications. Also, Microsoft is releasing Skype for Business Server 2019, ensuring the app’s future for years to come, especially in enterprises that specifically want an on-premises install of the application. Additionally, the consumer version of the app will continue to use the Skype branding. Finally, some users believe that the communications features in Teams doesn’t measure up to the functionality in Skype for Business. For all of these reasons, it makes sense for the applications to say separate because many will still want to use Skype going forward.

Chat was supposed to kill email. Why hasn't that happen, will it ever happen?

Email has been around for decades, and despite its flaws, it continues to get the job done. Business chat apps aren’t perfect either. Cost as well as security are two potential factors preventing organizations from replacing email with chat. For example, according to Spiceworks data, only 30% of it pros believe that collaborative chat apps are cheaper than email. Additionally, 58% of IT pros agree that sensitive files and information should not be sheared through collaborative chat apps. 

Was Amazon Chime ever considered? Were there any other competitors other than the 4 mentioned?

The study focused on vendors that refer to themselves as primarily chat applications vs. other types of collaborative tools such as video conferencing, online meeting tools, etc.

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How do you see the market evolving over the next two years? Should Microsoft just buy Slack to push out Google? Will there be another killer app?

Besides Teams continuing to grow at a rapid rate (largely due to the popularity of Office 365), we can expect all of the competitors to continue to introduce new functionality to remain competitive. For example, Google will evolve their Hangouts platform, having recently split the app into Chat and Meet platforms, which will focus on more Slack-like collaborative team chat and videoconferencing, respectively. Slack will have to continue to be innovative because most businesses use either Microsoft’s or Google’s productivity suites, which in many cases come bundled with their business chat applications at no additional cost. So in many ways, business chat app adoption will be a reflection of — or perhaps an extension of — the popularity of productivity suites. 

 Slack has already turned down many offers in the past, and Microsoft now has their own Slack competitor, an acquisition is not necessarily in the cards. Besides, it was rumored that Microsoft considered making an offer for Slack a few years ago, but ultimately decided not to.

Why do you think we haven't yet had an open source equivalent of Slack that has succeeded? The WordPress of business chat?

There are open-source applications similar to Slack currently, with names like Mattermost and Rocket.Chat. But because Slack is simple to set up and offers a free version with enough functionality for many, potential users of these open-source competitors may not see the need to seek out alternatives.

Peter Tsai, Senior Technology Analyst at Spiceworks